When we read the stories of the lives of the saints, we find their lives filled with very ordinary events – but also some very extraordinary ones.
Like St. Faustina, the little Polish nun who had visions of the Lord Himself, who asked her to make known the message of God’s Divine mercy.
The three children of Fatima, St. Bernadette and St. Juan Diego were all visited by the Blessed Mother.
St. Theresa of Avila, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Alphonse Ligouri are said to have often levitated/floated in their time of prayer.
The New Testament describes several ordinary events in the life of St. Paul – like his tent making in Thessalonika – and then some extraordinary events also – the most well-known of these is the life-changing encounter he had with Christ on his way to Damascus.
And as we recently heard in a reading at daily Mass – St. Paul wrote about mystically being taken up in his body to the third heaven – whatever that is supposed to mean. . .
In our second reading today -- Paul writes about an “abundance of revelations” he received from the Lord.
And then – Paul writes of a very strange phenomenon --- “a thorn in the flesh was given to me” he writes – “an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.”
Some think this thorn may have been some skin affliction Paul suffered from.
Others think it may have referred to a reoccurring sensual temptation – or an unwanted attraction to something Paul knew was bad for his soul --- which he had to remain vigilant against.
Or Paul may have been speaking figuratively – referring to an especially difficult challenge in his ministry, or a certain group of people that continually gave him a hard time.
What Paul’s thorn in the flesh was – we do not know – except that he clearly was not talking about some little passing problem.
We DO know that Paul prayed to be delivered of it. We heard him say : “Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me.” But it did not.
I think we can all relate to Paul in some way or another. Who among us hasn’t had some challenge, some obstacle, some temptation, some suffering --- that no matter how much we prayed – we could not be rid of it???
Certainly, anyone who struggles with any type of addiction knows what Paul was feeling and experiencing. . . many of whom refer to their addiction as a demon they cannot be free of.
But no doubt – every one of us, has some thorn, some physical – psychological – emotional – or spiritual problem that won’t go away, even when we pray for deliverance or help.
So why WON’T the Lord deliver us – why WON’T God answer our prayers and free us from our thorns??
Most likely to teach us the same lesson God taught Paul: “Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but the Lord said to me: “My grace is sufficient for you.”
God wants to teach us that grace is all we need. .
So what do we mean by grace? The unmerited and unearned love of God – the free gift of strength and help and power which God’s gives us ----- is enough.
No matter what our suffering consist of – an illness, a loss, a temptation, a fear, a persecution, a hardship --- God’s grace is sufficient for us – to what? To have life and to have it abundantly and joyfully! All to become the people God made us and wants us to be.
When we connect to God’s grace – we become instruments of God’s will – no matter how much we suffer!
In other words, we can endure anything when we live by God’s grace. In fact, every illness, every loss, every temptation, every hardship – can become an opportunity to grow in grace – rather than starting a pity party.
For those who follow Christ – behind every curse is a blessing. Behind every suffering there is joy. Behind every hardship there is an opportunity for growth – all because God’s grace sustains us and accomplishes what might seem impossible through us.
Our thorns are proof that God wants something great from all of us: God wants us to trust in grace so as not to be mediocre in our faith but great in our holiness. God wants us to deflate our egos so as to fill ourselves with God’s grace, spirit, and being: allowing ourselves to be conformed into the image and likeness of Christ
Our thorns are reminders that none of us are finished products – we never reach a point in holiness that we become independent of God. In fact the only way we become holy is to know that we are dependent on God – for all that we are and all that we have.
In the Gospel today, Jesus himself is rejected by his neighbors, his townsfolk. What a thorn that must have been!! – to be rejected by the people you grew up with.
It could happen to us also – if we are living our faith, and being dependent on God --- we might face similar rejection. We might be mocked for belonging to the Church these days – made fun of for prioritizing our weekend so as to attend Mass, your children or grandchildren may totally turn their back on what you believed and followed all your life.
But in those times we need to trust that our task IS NOT to be liked by everybody – but to stand firm in the faith and be a witness to Christ.
Likewise, remaining faithful to the Church or its moral teaching, or its leaders – might feel like a painful thorn in the flesh. . . or a pain somewhere else -- but we don’t just practice Christianity when it is easy or convenient.
No, we discover, like St. Paul, that our weaknesses are made strong by God’s grace, and what we endure for the sake of Christ, brings about a powerful change and transformation in our hearts and in our world.
So we pray for each other and pray with each other – to remain faithful when we suffer the thorns of the world – knowing that God’s grace is sufficient.
Moments in time...